Core-Identity Musical Stuff
The last few months have been real work on the guitar. I switched from using a pick to finger-picking an electric, and at this point any change is major. My fingers ached, my arms ached, my back was tight and the right side of my hip was sore. Older bodies do not like changes in the way things are done, especially when you are pushing them near the injury zone.
If there’s one thing I’d like to tell young musicians out there, it is to warm up slowly. If you’re a guitarist, before you launch into your blazing leads, just place all 4 fingers of one hand on one string and press it down altogether. Do that for a few minutes before you even try a chord or a single note. The inside of your arms resembles the rigging of a ship. These ropes can rub, tear, and stretch. Musical injuries are horrible. I started out as a bass player, so I know. One thing I always told myself was if the band fell apart, I could make it as a journeyman bassist. I mean I was really good at one time. In fact my goal was to be one of the best in the world. Then one day I went to see a bass player named Stanley Clark.
Now, Stanley probably is the best bass player in history. If you’re a young musician, check him out. So I wasn’t going to be better than Stanley, but I felt I was as good as any rock bass player.
I was in a jazz fusion-blues-type trio and I had a bass solo on virtually every song. It was like a lead instrument and I was playing the hell out of it. I also played keyboards for fun, but not onstage. One night I was playing piano and drinking whiskey. I was jamming along to “Compared to What” by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and I mean I was keeping up with it. Over and over, I played that record.
Then a few nights later, I was playing the bass and it was like my wrist was a tire and it suddenly started going flat. Everything stretched out, and that was the beginning of the end for me as a bass player. I switched to guitar with mixed results. I didn’t like the little piece of plastic. Your last interface with the instrument is picking the string with a piece of plastic? Actually, it went along with the phony feeling I had of being a bass player at heart and switching to guitar. I’ll never forget one night I was partying with this band. They thought I was a mediocre musician based on my fledgling guitar playing, and I just said, “Screw it”, picked up a bass and killed them. For years I would spend all day trying to get a guitar track right and then just pick up a bass and nail that track in two takes.
But I risked stretching everything if I went too long. I could only do it for 5 minutes and then it would be sore for a couple of days. I was one miserable dude back then and it took me over a decade to begin to recover emotionally. It’s bad when you pick something for your core identity, and then you can’t do it anymore.
Now, after 20 years, I’m starting to feel like a guitarist. That’s my core identity now, and fittingly, I’ve gone back to using my fingers, just like the old days on the bass. Who knows if it’ll endure, but last night, I was playing along with a DVD by one of the rock greats and I was keeping up. Afterwards my arms were glowing with joy, and it was tough to sleep. It’s hard reinventing yourself - I don’t care what Madonna says - but even at this late date, there’s still hope that I can become a decent musician again.